US's 'lobster king' wants to shield fishermen from China

US threatens to impose tit-for-tat tariffs on Chinese seafood if Beijing fails to buy $150m of goods under phase-1 deal.

    Trade adviser Peter Navarro says lobster fishermen will be provided with the same type of assistance other parts of the agriculture sector are receiving to protect them from harmful trade practices [File: Robert F Bukaty/Associated Press]
    Trade adviser Peter Navarro says lobster fishermen will be provided with the same type of assistance other parts of the agriculture sector are receiving to protect them from harmful trade practices [File: Robert F Bukaty/Associated Press]

    US President Donald Trump signed a memorandum aimed at protecting American lobster fishermen who have found export markets drying up, a White House adviser dubbed the "lobster king" said, adding China could face new tariffs.

    "If those purchase commitments are not met, the United States Trade Representative has been directed to use his discretion to impose ... reciprocal tariffs on the China seafood industry," trade adviser Peter Navarro told reporters on Wednesday. He was referring to $150m in purchase commitments Beijing made under the so-called phase one US-China trade deal.

    In the memorandum, Trump also directed the US Agriculture Department to provide lobster fishermen with the same type of assistance other parts of the agriculture sector are receiving to protect them from harmful trade practices, Navarro said.

    Senator Angus King of Maine welcomed the decision and said it would make a huge difference for Maine lobster fishermen who had been hurt doubly by Chinese tariffs imposed in 2018 and the collapse of sales to restaurants during the coronavirus lockdowns.

    "This is definitely good news," he told Reuters news agency. "The timing is good. This has been a tough summer for our lobstermen."

    The US Trade Representative's (USTR) office and the Maine Lobstermen's Association did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

    Trump earlier this month called Navarro the "lobster king" at a Maine event, threatening to impose tariffs on European Union cars if the bloc did not drop its tariff on American lobsters.

    The economic toll of the coronavirus outbreak is sharpening the US's response to China, with whom it has been engaged in a bitter trade war since Trump accused Beijing of unfair trading practices and intellectual property theft in 2018.

    The Trump administration in May said it was "turbocharging" an initiative to remove global industrial supply chains from China as it weighed new tariffs to punish Beijing for its handling of the coronavirus outbreak.

    Trump, who has stepped up attacks on China in the run-up to the November 3 US presidential election, has long pledged to bring manufacturing back from overseas.

    Now, economic destruction caused by measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus in the US is driving a government-wide push to reduce the US's reliance on Chinese factories, even if manufacturing supply chains go to other nations instead, current and former senior US administration officials have said.

    SOURCE: Reuters news agency